John Sayles’s seventh feature, his first in ‘Scope, is a highly ambitious and grimly powerful look at urban corruption that represents a marked improvement over most of his earlier efforts while still revealing Sayles’s relative lack of skill in directing actors, framing, and editing. Set in the fictional Hudson City, New Jersey, which suggests a combination of Hoboken (where Sayles lives) and nearby Jersey City, the film centers on the troubled son (Vincent Spano) of a successful contractor who gets involved in an attempted burglary, which sets off a chain of events that ultimately involves all the other characters in this densely populated film: politicians, policemen, hoods, teachers, street people, and many others. As social analysis, the film is at once highly persuasive and dependent on an overall orientation that’s about as up-to-date as leftist thinking of the 30s. (The raving street person who is employed as a choral figure could have come straight out of Clifford Odets.) With Tony Lo Bianco, Joe Morton, Angela Bassett, Gloria Foster, and Sayles himself (in a very effective turn as a villain with a letter-perfect New Jersey accent). (Water Tower)
As the Chicago International Film Festival moves into its second week, there are still a lot of interesting and exciting movies to be seen. I feel compelled to note that none of the 16 features on this week’s program that I’m familiar with are as beautiful or as potent as Jean-Luc Godard’s Nouvelle vague–one of the 39 films shown in Toronto last month that Chicago festival director Michael Kutza boasted to the press about having rejected. (Among the other 38 “rejected” titles are a charming minimalist comedy, A Little Stiff, shown at the Film Center last month, and a fascinating documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, which premiered on cable last weekend.) So though, as always, Kutza’s selection is a mixed bag, there are nonetheless several titles included that are worth anyone’s time.
I especially recommend Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s Proof, Jan Oxenberg’s Thank You and Goodnight, George Cukor’s 1960 Let’s Make Love (mainly for Marilyn Monroe’s performance), Otto Preminger’s 1954 River of No Return (mainly for Preminger’s direction), Barbara Kopple’s American Dream, and Victor Erice’s The South (1982) on the basis of my own experience, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s Delicatessen and Raul Ruiz’s Treasure Island on the basis of what I’ve heard. Among the other weekend offerings, I’d call Beeban Kidron’s Antonia and Jane watchable, Kurt Neumann’s 1958 The Fly marginally watchable, and Walter Lang’s 1956 The King and I extremely dull.
High points after this weekend include Chantal Akerman’s winsome Night and Day, John Greyson’s hilarious and pointed The Making of Monsters in the Wednesday-night program of shorts, and, in the CinemaScope retrospective, Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957), Robert Rossen’s The Hustler (1961), and Frank Tashlin’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957); foremost among my colleagues’ recommendations are Kon Ichikawa’s Noh Mask Murderers and Tsai Yang-Ming’s Fraternity. Additional recommendations and information can be found in the reviews and descriptions below; check marks appear next to some of the more promising titles.
Among the recommended new films, I’ve heard The Double Life of Veronique, Delicatessen, and Antonia and Jane will be opening commercially in Chicago at some point. One possible advantage to attending a festival screening is that the filmmaker may be present; but unfortunately the festival never issued a list of attending filmmakers.
Screenings are at the Fine Arts, 418 S. Michigan, the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport, and the Esquire, 58 E. Oak. Tickets can be purchased at the theater box office the day of the screening starting one hour in advance or at the film festival store, 828 N. State; they are also available by phone at 644-3456 or 902-1500. General admission to each program, with some exceptions, is $7, $6 for Cinema/Chicago members; the first shows of the day before 6 PM at each theater are two dollars cheaper. “Best of the Festival” programs cost $10, $9 for Cinema/Chicago members. For further information, call 644-3456.
Jodie Foster’s highly distinctive directorial debut, scripted by Scott Frank (Dead Again), gives us the year in the life of a boy genius (Adam Hann-Byrd) between his seventh and eighth birthdays. Foster herself plays his devoted working-class mother, and Dianne Wiest plays a child psychologist and former gifted child who fights for control of the little boy. This is largely played for comedy, and is often quite funny, but Foster also shows a great deal of sensitivity depicting the young hero’s social isolation and weighing the respective strengths and limitations of the two women as parental figures. (There’s virtually no father figure in sight, and part of what makes this movie so provocative is its discreet suggestion that one isn’t necessary.) Visually bold and imaginative and wonderfully acted (Foster and Hann-Byrd in particular give fine, expansive performances without a trace of sentimentality), this movie is also graced by a very effective jazz score by Mark Isham that helps counterbalance an overschematic script. Not a total success, but strongly recommended; with Harry Connick Jr., David Pierce, Debi Mazar, and P.J. Ochlan. (Old Orchard, Webster Place, Bricktown Square, Water Tower)